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I started my Amazon FBA business with books and I continue to sell books every single day. I love books because of the great margins, they don’t expire and I rarely incur long-term storage fees with books. There are a few things that I don’t like about books including how long it seems to take to process them. When Nathan Holmquist contacted me about his new ScanLister program, I eagerly signed up to be an early tester because I have tens of thousands of books to process in a storage unit and it is taking a long time to get through them all. In this week’s post I talk about why/how I bought these books and what I’m doing to get them to Amazon.

It started with that mother of all cat killers – curiosity. As a registered dealer with a large local public library book sale, I got a notice inviting me to bid on the remainders of the book sale. What a great idea! This sale was so huge I knew there would be many, many books left over that were still sellable on Amazon through FBA. I also loved the idea of being able to work through the boxes of books in the comfort of my home and at my own pace.

I worked this sale regularly and never even completed all my desirable categories so I knew there was a lot of money buried in those book stacks. I contacted the person in charge and asked how the auction worked, who normally bid, how much was regularly bid and everything I could think of. She was very nice. Naturally we danced a bit around the “how much was regularly bid” because she wanted to get the biggest bang for her library’s buck. I found out that there was a professional company that had bought their remainders in the past and I learned that I would be responsible for removing ALL the books the day after the sale. The volunteers would help box up, but they would not lift or transport.

The winner of the auction would be determined part-way through the sale so I also planned to work the sale vigorously. I joined up with two other sellers and we decided to bid a total of $300 for the remainders. We didn’t know if that was high or low, but we felt confident that if we won we would be able to make back our money pretty easily even with truck rental and storage unit costs. We knew we were buying tens of thousands of books and thought that we probably wouldn’t win with such a low bid but we were curious to see how it all worked and to ultimately learn the winning bid. It was an experiment.

Boy, were we stunned when we won. Thank goodness I had partners because I had a huge meeting for my day job the next day and could not be present to help with the book removal and transport. They took care of everything. It was a bear to move that many books even though they hired a truck and strong men to help. It was a daunting task (and I am SO grateful to my hard working partners!).

We were the dog that caught the car. Now what? In the beginning we thought we’d scan and sort at the storage unit. Immediately that turned out to be a problem. We had originally hoped to process at the storage unit by using ScanPower and I bought Clearwire service to give us internet at the storage unit. Unfortunately, we were in a Clearwire dead zone. We scanned and sorted books into piles at the warehouse for a while ($7-$11, $11-$15, $15-$25, $25+) so that we could distribute the high value books fairly among the three of us. It was slow because we were apparently far from a cell tour as well and lost signal often. We spent days doing this but were thwarted by the weather and synching up schedules to get all of us there.

Discards were given to charity by the truckload and we were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the book stacks – it seemed like we were barely making a dent. Then we switched gears, we would each take boxes of books to our homes and work them there at our own pace. I took about 100 boxes and filled my garage and the stacks still were barely touched. (We have a BIG storage unit).

I tried to use the ScanPower Mobile ability to click on “Buy” and create a buy list that was then imported into my ScanPower List program, but I had a lot of technical difficulties (there were bugs early on) and it didn’t really save me much time because I still had to condition, price and sticker each book. The piles on my floor did not match the list on the screen because I sorted by condition as I went along. Thus, I stopped using the “Buy List” function for books altogether. It works great for new stuff, but not books.

This was a disappointment, too, because so many of my good books didn’t have barcodes and/or were pre-1972 without ISBN#’s. All the research I had to do to decide if it was a good book to sell had to be done again when it came time to list which meant I needed to do my research in front of my computer (vs. my TV where I did a lot of late-night sorting and scanning).

What I did instead was to create a “Research” pile to be looked at later and focused on books with a barcode. I had a Half-Price Book pile and a charity pile for my rejects. Half-Price Books won’t pay you for library books so I donate those to my favorite charity thrift store instead (I never scan that particular store for books). I went through the trouble of taking my reject boxes to Half-Price Books because I usually make enough a month to pay for the storage unit. They pay very little, but I have such a huge volume of rejects that it was worth my trouble. One of my partners sells her rejects through CraigsList by the box which works for her. I have recently found an independent book store that gives me trade in value for my books which is much more valuable than the few bucks I was making at Half Price.

Now I have boxes and boxes of research plus tens of thousands of books gathering dust and spiders at the storage unit. What I do is go and get books when I don’t have money for inventory. In the past two years, we’ve processed a lot of boxes and we are not even half-way through the unit. ScanPower and InventoryLab are great programs but they are much more efficient for retail arbitrage than used books. I wanted something faster but not too expensive.

What have I learned? The books have become a Sword of Damocles over my head. I feel guilty buying other books when I have so many available to me. While we have tons of books for less than a penny a book, they are not always great sellers. We tend to send in all the long-tail books since we already own the books, but they can take a very long time to sell. In addition, they take our time to process. For this reason, I still scan book sales and send up low-rank, high-return books to help make sure I’m selling lots of books per month. It is ironic.

When Nathan Holmquist contacted me about his new ScanLister program I jumped at the chance to be an early tester. I dove right in with about 300 books that I had from the Plano Public Library sale and I’m pleased to say that it works great for books and has streamlined my process a lot.

Here’s my new book process:

  1. Scan and sort by:
    • No barcode (goes into my “Research/ScanPower” pile)
    • Donate to charity (rejected library books)
    • Take to book buyer (Half-Price Books or Independent Book store)
    • Condition
  1. Clean up books
  2. Place valuable, very large and Like New books into poly bags
  3. Turn on scanner to continuous scan.
  4. Scan into ScanLister at a rate of about 4-6 per minute (sometimes it is even faster)
  5. Place into box and send to Amazon
  6. Amazon stickers my inventory for 20 cents a book
    • OR sticker myself
  7. Reprice my inventory to adjust to correct price

While this may seem like a lot of steps, it is actually a lot faster than any other method of processing I have tried. I use ScanLister with barcode-only books so it goes fast. Since you don’t need internet until you are done, there is no delay after each scan. If a book needs research then I might as well use ScanPower or InventoryLab because, as I also learned, Amazon won’t sticker a book that doesn’t have a barcode. If I have to sticker it myself, then ScanPower (or InventoryLab if you use that) is the way to go because ScanLister doesn’t currently allow you to print labels as you go.

When I’m conditioning the Used Good and Used Acceptable books I’ll subdivide them by notes like “former library book, expect typical stickers and markings.” This way, when I’m scanning into ScanLister I can use the “sticky-note” function to put the same note(s) on each book in a group without having to slow down. I use one price for everything – $50.

I have a scanner on a stand which makes it easy to scan books. If I’m going to label my books myself, then I have to put my books in piles exactly as I scanned them. If I’m going to use Amazon’s label service then I can just place them in a box. Be sure to wait until you go through the Amazon process to put in a box since the warehouse sorting occurs later in the process. You have a choice during the shipping queue process to print labels on sheets if you want to do them yourself.

After I send off the books, then I run my auto-repricer to set the prices.

Another new thing I did this past month is I hired part-time help to process my inventory. I highly recommend this approach and wish I’d done it from the beginning. I’m finally plowing through these books and I can see a day when the storage unit is empty – hooray! I might consider buying book sale remainders again, but not until I have a much larger operation with full-time staff. It is too much otherwise.

ScanLister is a bare-bones program that focuses on one thing – books. It is also a one-time fee vs. a subscription which is appealing. Nathan designed it to supplement rather than compete with programs like ScanPower and InventoryLab (which he uses).

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Easy to use
  • Optimized for books
  • Can use off-line. You don’t need internet until it is time to upload to Amazon.
  • One-time fee vs. monthly subscription

Cons:

  • Only for books
  • Minimal features – you can’t add the cost you paid, your floor/ceiling for price or print labels from the program
  • Can’t replenish – you are always creating new MSKUs
  • New – there are bound to be some bugs for early users

Nathan created a quick video showing how fast you can process 50 books that is very impressive. Just so you know,  I am NOT an affiliate for this program – just a customer.

Next week I’ll talk more about auto repricing as part of a longer interview I had with Nathan Holmquist.

Happy selling!

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